Helping Children Adjust When a Parent Travels for Work
Posted Jan 27 2009 3:54pm
Yesterday’s post was about travel, and I’ll be continuing with that theme today! This time, I’m going to address the issue of helping children to cope when a parent is often away from home on business. This scenario is typical for my sister’s family. Her husband works for a multinational company in sales management, and he is on the road nearly every week. My sister is almost like a single parent, having to handle all of the parenting and household duties most of the time. Children can have a tough time with having a parent gone. My niece and nephew are entering adolescence, so they understand the situation a little better now, but in the early years of his career, my brother-in-law often had to tackle difficult questions such as: “Why can’t you come to my hockey game?” or “Will you be able to attend my school party?”
Tom Daly is also a business traveling parent with four young children. When he got those “tough questions” from his kids, he had difficulty explaining why he had to leave home in language that they could understand. He knew this was a challenge for other traveling parents, especially when their children were between 4 and 8 years old. Children this age rely on rituals and routines to help them feel secure, which are often disrupted when a parent travels. Therefore, Tom consulted with Dr. Sherryl Goodman, an Emory University psychologist and expert on children’s issues, to get some tips on helping his children feel less stressed about his absence. Here is her advice:
1. Recognize that your child may feel anxious about you leaving. Children between the ages of 4 and 8 are often dependent on their parents’ presence to help them to feel secure. They also like to count on the routines of their daily lives. Parents going on business trips stir up both of these needs.
2. Give your child basic information about your trip.
3. Let your child know about your trip a few days ahead of your leaving. Give him or her lots of opportunities to ask questions about your trip. When preparing for your trip, plan to spend a little extra time with your child before you leave.
4. Let your child know what they can count on about being in touch with you during your trip.
5. Develop a routine that involves your child in your trip preparations. Show your child some pictures on the internet of where you will be.
6. Review with your child what he or she will be doing while you are away and who will be there to take care of him or her.
7. While away, make every effort to call home at a time when you will be able to talk with your child.
8. When you return, take time to transition back into your child’s life.
9. Let your child know what your trip was like. Reading a book from the “Sometimes I Work in...” series gives you an opportunity to tell your child about all different aspects of your travels. And reading together gives your child a special time to reconnect with you.
10. After your trip, use the opportunity to reinforce your child’s coping skills so they can manage stress even better in the future.
Tip number 9 above refers to a series of books that Tom Daly developed that helps parents and children talk about the trip so it’s less mysterious. The four books in the series include:
Sometimes I Work in…New York Sometimes I Work in…Atlanta Sometimes I Work in…Chicago Sometimes I Work in…Ft. Lauderdale The books are customizable so parents can fill in their own details as they read them to their children. For instance, one page says, “Getting ready to leave, I have so many things to pack!...What do I take with me to Atlanta?” And then the adult can talk with the child about the kinds of things he will need for the trip. Another page gives the parent a chance to talk about the activities he does at the hotel. Several pages allow the parent to describe his plans, but then the child is also encouraged to talk about what she will be doing while Dad or Mom is gone. There’s even a removable postcard at the end of the book that parents can send back to their children. There’s also a fill-in-the-blank page where parent and child can write down details about the trip so the child can revisit it while he’s gone. These books are an excellent tool for opening the lines of communication about a parent’s absence and a child’s anxiety.
All four books are available through Amazon at the links provided above. Tom also writes a very helpful blog for traveling parents at www.travelingparent.com. If you’re a business traveler with young kids, I encourage you to visit the blog, check out Tom’s books and, especially, communicate with your children frequently. This will help them feel secure in your absence and reassure them of your love.